Thai military drops defamation case over torture report

By Kaweewit Kaewjinda, Associated Press | Posted - Mar. 7, 2017 at 6:45 a.m.



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BANGKOK (AP) — In a decision welcomed by rights groups, Thailand's military on Tuesday withdrew criminal complaints against three human rights activists who issued a report alleging torture by security forces in the country's insurgency-plagued south.

"We have withdrawn the lawsuit," said Pramote Prom-in, spokesman for the military's Internal Security Operations Command, the department that filed the charges. "We want cooperation between NGOs and officials to be able to move forward in the future."

The activists' report detailed 54 accounts of alleged torture by officials during interrogations in southern Thailand. The three human rights defenders, Pornpen Khongkachonkiet, Anchana Heemima, and Somchai Homla-or, published the report and posted it online in February 2016.

The military's security command is largely responsible for overseeing efforts to quell a Muslim separatist insurgency in Buddhist-dominated Thailand's far southern provinces of Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat. The violence has taken about 7,000 lives since escalating dramatically in 2004.

"There is no hidden agenda," said Maj. Gen. Chinnawat Mandech, deputy director of the command's southern zone. "We want to work together to stop the issue of violence. There is no point in us working separately when we are trying to achieve the same goals."

Activist Somchai told reporters that he did not think officials would turn a blind eye to the report's allegations, "but we will work together to better understand them."

"If there are officials who really have done something wrong, they need to be processed by the law," he said. "There will also be changes to compensate those who have been victims of violation. This is not limited only to cases of those who have been mistreated by officials but also applies to those who have been impacted by the violence. "

His fellow activist, Pornpen, said the decision "could be an example for others in terms of cooperation and reconciliation in Thai society."

Thailand's military government has repeatedly come under pressure from rights groups for alleged abuses of power including overzealous prosecution of critics. Other human rights defenders remain under threat of imprisonment.

Several rights groups welcomed the military's decision to withdraw the criminal complaints of defamation and violating the computer law.

"Today's developments are very positive, and we encourage the government of Thailand to take additional steps to strengthen measures to protect activists carrying out human rights reporting and monitoring," said Laurent Meillan, officer-in-charge at the Southeast Asia regional office of the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. He urged authorities to drop similar charges against other human rights defenders.

A similar call was issued by the London-based human rights group Amnesty International, which also urged Thai authorities to reform or repeal repressive laws such as criminal defamation.

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This story has been corrected to show that the report was released in February 2016 instead of January 2016.

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Kaweewit Kaewjinda

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